Full of unique stories and amazing photography, Papersky is a Japanese magazine that celebrates the simple art of travel, aiming to inspire the reader to go out and discover the world in their own way.
As part of their commitment to a living magazine that enriches the world rather than creating false worlds to aspire to they’ve been organising an ongoing Tour de Nippon that readers can participate in, each ride focussing on a particular area of Japan and its local culture that can often be extremely difficult to access. The routes are usually centred around more bucolic locations of the island; Kyoto, Shizuoka, Aomori and Shiga have all featured on previous tours (maps can be found here).
The Tokyo ride was divided into afternoon and evening routes designed to show people new sides to a city that has so many amazing hidden spaces, even for people that live here. I joined the night ride with the official guide for the event, Nowhere Fast member and Rapha film maker Daisuke Kitayama, together with some of Tokyo’s bicycle messengers who were on hand for assistance. The group of just over twenty riders met at Hinode Pier in Tokyo Bay where we began with a boat trip together with our bikes along the Sumida River. Experiencing the city by boat is unique in seeing the more hidden edges of Tokyo and more familiar things from a new perspective. For the first time I could clearly see the Asahi Beer headquarters – partially designed by Philippe Starck to resemble a glass of beer with a frothy head. The journey ended in the old entertainment district of Asakusa where we had an unimpeded view of the iconic Skytree, the second tallest tower in the world and just in time for the specially designed evening light display to mark its first anniversary.
From Asakusa we headed west, past the 7th Century Sensouji temple, taking in the unique sites of the old entertainment district and on toward Ueno Park where we rode past the huge Shinobazu Pond, the lotus plants that were just beginning to cover it illuminated by the lights of the city and nearby Gojōten Jinja. Cycling through the streets of Tokyo in a group of 20 plus riders, lights blazing, is an amazing experience, every time I looked back I couldn’t help smiling. After winding through various backstreets, all completely new to me, we paused on a unassuming rail crossing to look through the gates and see Ueno train depot, fully loaded with carriages and locked up for the night.
After a short ride South toward the Imperial Palace we reached the more familiar grandeur of Tokyo Station where there was time for some group shots in front of a building that at first appearance is immediately more European than Japanese. With the palace in the distance we set off along Naka-dori, a flagstone paved boulevard of luxury brands and on toward the contrasting but far more impressive tunnel like maze of the International Arcade in Hibiya, shutters down for the night, its a rag tag collection of old shops that run underneath the highway, with its narrow path that seems to go on forever, it felt like a kind of urban slalom course. Continuing South we headed through the streets of Shinbashi until we reached Shiba Park and Zōjō-ji, a temple that dates back to 1590 and sits beneath Tokyo Tower, the main broadcasting tower of the capital from 1958 until duties were transferred to the Skytree earlier this year.
Before we finished the ride we headed to Azabu-Juban and a very local sento (public bath) named Také no Yu with it’s startlingly black mineral-rich water originating from an underground hot spring, the ultimate way to unwind after a ride. I’m not sure what the locals thought as we descended on the place, it became a little packed in there but the atmosphere remained friendly, despite the heat.
Another short ride from Azabu to Shibaura would be the last few miles before locking up the bikes and setting up for some urban camping on the balconies and rooftop of Shibaura House. The night ended with a live reading and performance by duo Kojima Keitaney-Love, everyone seated around an imaginary camp fire a few heavy heads already sleepy, a perfect ending before heading for our tents – Lee Basford / Japanese NWFCC Chapter / humankind.jp
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